Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

Slip behind the wheel of the ‘09 Acura TL and there’s no mistaking what this sport sedan is all about.

With its dual-cockpit setup and enough buttons, dials and gauges to dazzle most any starship captain, the TL’s interior screams “driver’s car” with every inch and fiber.

The first thing noticed is the instrumentation: a cluster of 3-dimensonal, concentric circles that stare back at you like a bulging pair of cartoon binoculars.

It’s an aggressive design that gives equal balance to the tachometer and speedometer, as if to suggest you put on your driving gloves before engaging the ignition.

The steering wheel, itself, acts as the driver’s command center, with Formula 1-style paddle shifters and more than a dozen other buttons and rocker switches that position controls for the radio, hands-free phone operation, voice-activation technology and climate system within easy reach.

That proved too many buttons for some judges to get used to in a short commute, but we suspect over time most drivers will appreciate having those controls at hand.

There’s more fun to be had with the TL’s center stack, also chock full of sound system and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning buttons, plus a supersized BMW iDrive-like human/machine interface that regulates the navigation system and all other devices operated through the car’s 8-in. (20-cm) liquid-crystal display screen.

The circular theme is carried out along the entire IP, which flows neatly into the door panels and wraps comfortably – not too snugly – around both driver and front passenger. The metallic treatment along the IP and doors adds to the car’s high-tech theme and pulls together the gray trim and saddle-tone Milano leather seats better than anyone has a right to expect. “Very sassy,” notes one tester of the TL’s color palette.

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The judges find quality to be top-notch, citing the workmanship of the woven headliner, soft surfaces that enhance comfort and the “excellent fit and finish” all around.

Although the front seats win kudos, rated as “fabulous” by one tester, the rear seating represents a tight squeeze for most, with the middle slot of questionable value.

But that’s a minor complaint against a car built mainly for the driver. Most other 21st Century amenities are here, from an iPod jack and Acura/ELS Surround premium sound system to Bluetooth and a plethora of safety equipment, including a full complement of airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, active head restraints and automatic seatbelt tensioning system.

Finally, Acura adds to the starship theme with gauges that progressively illuminate as the door is opened and ignition engaged, plus light-emitting-diodes that brighten key switches on the IP, doors, steering wheel and overhead console at night.

The Premium-Priced Car category arguably is the toughest in the Ward’s Interior of the Year competition, because it comes with no price cap. What set the TL apart from a formidable list of unbridled competitors is its quality craftsmanship, high value for the money and unsurpassed execution on a theme.

This may be a luxury car, but one look inside tells you this is no boulevard cruiser.

“Striking,” sums up one Ward’s judge.

dzoia@wardsauto.com